How sleep affects sex—and vice-versa—is a classic “chicken or the egg?” question. Does getting more sleep help you have more (and better!) sex, or does having more sex help you get more sleep? While there’s certainly a correlation, there’s no definitive recipe we can provide since each sleeper is unique.
That said, a great starting point, philosophically, is to focus on getting more sleep and having more sex, no matter the order of preference. So today we’ll look at this from both angles, with the support of some compelling science. No matter how deep you want to dig into the supporting studies, the bottom line is that if you’re sleeping well you have the potential to get more action, and if you’re fooling around at bedtime you’ll probably sleep better. That means this is a classic win-win situation.
How Can Getting More Sleep Lead to More Sex?
Since our expertise lies more in the realm of sleep, we’ll approach this from a sleep-first point-of-view to start. If you’re a consistent reader of our blog, you know how much we preach about establishing consistent and realistic sleep habits. This starts with identifying your chronotype, and continues with creating—and sticking with—a routine for bedtime and waking up. Creating these habits allows you to trigger your sleep switch, and potentially increase how much deep and REM sleep you’re getting on a nightly basis. And, from temperature-regulating solutions to weighted blankets, there are additional sleep tools you can utilize to promote healthy sleep.
By starting with getting more sleep, you can work to avoid giving or receiving the standard-issue sex rejection: “Not tonight, honey. I’m too tired.” It shouldn’t come as a shock that sleep deprivation is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t have sex on a regular basis—and research backs it up.
One large study of women between 50 and 79 found that shorter sleep duration (less than seven to eight hours a night) translated to lower sexual satisfaction. Many things can take a toll on a woman’s sex drive in menopause, and this research suggests that poor sleep is one of them. However, the sleep-sex link can be found in younger women, too. Another study of college-age women found that women who slept longer at night were more likely to have sex the next day. Women who regularly got more sleep also reported greater sexual desire and better arousal during sex.
It’s important to note that sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can take a toll on sex as well. Research on men with sleep apnea has found that many of them also experience erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s not completely understood why the two are connected, but researchers suspect that sleep deprivation plays a role. Men’s bodies produce testosterone at night. So if your sleep is compromised by apnea, it may affect your testosterone levels, and lower testosterone can lead to lower libido or inability to get an erection. ED in itself is stressful, which can contribute to the vicious cycle of poor sleep and bad (or no) sex. The good news is that men who get treatment for sleep apnea often notice an improvement in the amount of sleep they get and their sex lives.
How Can Having Sex Help You Get More Sleep?
Let’s start with the obvious: simply being in bed with the lights off is a cue to your brain that it’s time to sleep (this goes back to those sleep habits we mentioned). So when you add in the fact that sex requires physical exertion, it makes sense that you’d feel tired afterward.
Of course, sex is also a great stress reliever; if your stress levels are high, chances are it’s taking a toll on your sleep. Sex, along with the “feel-good” hormones your body releases during it, can be a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety. During sex, your brain is flooded with endorphins (your body’s natural painkillers) and oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone”). At the same time, sex lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. All this hormone action results in a sense of calm and well-being that can prime you for a good night’s sleep.
Let’s also consider the well-known cliché: many guys like to skip the cuddling and go straight to sleep after sex. However, there’s actually a biological reason for it. Besides all the hormones coursing through their bodies, men also get a surge of a hormone called prolactin after they ejaculate. Prolactin is linked to sexual satisfaction, and it’s also associated with the “refractory period” guys experience after orgasm, which is why they usually aren’t interested in going another round right away. Prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep, so it’s likely that the surge men get after orgasm causes them to feel sleepy.
Women also experience a prolactin surge after climax—but that’s not all. A study of healthy premenopausal women found that sexual stimulation boosted estrogen levels, while another linked higher estrogen levels with enhanced sleep amount and continuity.
Another study of women’s brains during sex found that during sexual stimulation, activity fell in the amygdala and the hippocampus, the areas responsible for alertness and anxiety. In other words, good sex shuts down the parts of your brain that make you feel stressed and anxious—and less stress and anxiety often translate to better sleep.
Do Whatever It Takes to Get More Sleep, and Have More Sex
Obviously this post outlines the fact that you can approach this from two different fronts: work to improve sleep or try having more sex. The beauty of this advice is that each road leads back to the other. Beyond creating healthy sleep habits, creating a bedroom conducive to sleep and sex—that’s really what it’s for, right?—is the perfect way to give back to yourself, and your partner. That means putting away the smartphones and turning off the TV to spend more time with each other at bedtime. Maybe you both fall asleep. Maybe you get lucky. Like we said at the start, either way, it’s the very definition of a win-win situation.
Have any tips of your own to get more sleep and have more sex? If so, we’d love for you to share them.